Ex-event coordinator sues MDH, alleging boss used ethnic slur

The judge and witness stands sit empty inside of courtroom 880.
A former vaccine event coordinator is suing the Minnesota Department of Health for racial discrimination.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

A former vaccine event coordinator is suing the state health department for racial discrimination, and alleges that her supervisor referred to her with a racial slur.

Leticia Alonso, who’s Latina, says in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the Minnesota Department of Health fired her last year ostensibly because of discrepancies in a log of gift cards that she and her coworkers gave as incentives to people who received COVID-19 shots.

Alonso, of Woodbury, said that her white supervisor questioned her, but not a white coworker, about gift cards that went missing on an evening when Alonso had not worked.

After Alonso was terminated on Sept. 7, 2021, her boss allegedly texted a white subordinate and wrote "In my eyes they are all illegal immigrants," then referred to Alonso with an ethnic slur. Alonso was born in Florida to Puerto Rican parents.

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Her attorney Claire Bruner-Wiltse said the gift cards were just a pretext to fire Alonso.

"The real reason here was because Ms. Alonso's race and her national origin,” Bruner-Wiltse said.

Alonso alleges in her lawsuit that MDH and Rose International, the employment agency that hired her, refused to take action.

"I think that cases like this highlight the importance of, especially in joint employer situations, employers listening to the complaints of employees seriously and promptly investigating reports of discrimination or retaliation," Bruner-Wiltse said.

Neither MDH nor Rose International has filed responses to the lawsuit or returned requests for comment from MPR News.